Finding Allies in your Community

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In more prosperous times, businesses were advised to budget a good amount of money for marketing. During this economic downturn I have learned that while businesses scrape by, money for marketing is scarce and many innovative business owners are learning to reach out to fellow small businesses as a new low to no-cost method to spread the word for their goods and services.

I own Park Place Coffee, a small coffee and crepe restaurant, where many groups come to meet. As the economy slipped, I watched as groups of business owners began to meet and work together on networking and promotions. While most areas have a Chamber of Commerce that tends to pull businesses together on a larger scale and with some membership dues, many smaller groups are beginning to form for more intimate and focused efforts. While Chambers may get your name out on a large scale, these smaller groups allow you to focus on agendas you choose and attendees are more apt to support and invest in one another.

Two examples of this effort are demonstrated here at Park Place each month: The -Cup of Coffee Networkers,- and -Connections.- The Cup of Coffee Networkers, was a brainstorm by a gentleman in Oklahoma, who knew a woman in Portland and got the first two meetings started. Through Facebook and Twitter promotion, it now holds events in six states. As a coffee shop owner, I am happy to be the site for a club that specifically encourages commerce at the local coffee shop! The group-s concept is simple: -You pay for the coffee, the networking is free.- Find out more: www. cupofcoffeenetworkers. com

The other group, -Connections,- serves as a side business for the leader who charges $5 per meeting. In trade, members learn from her skills as a presenter and marketer on how to -sell their business- in one to three minutes.

Although these two groups organized these meetings a bit differently, attendees reap multiple benefits. Joining a group who tends to be social, individuals help get your name out. People who tend to come to these groups are people who tend to be comfortable talking to others, and once they know you, your name will be shared in their circles. A logo designer who attends these meetings does most of the work for the other businesses, but the endorsements she has received through word-of-mouth marketing keeps the clients coming!

The Portland Cup of Coffee Networkers, which I host at Park Place, determines the agenda by group consensus. For example, many of the members were confused on how to use Twitter. A training was held and each member set up an account, and committed to following the other. Another interest was to place an ad in the local high school paper and share the cost between the members. The paper will now feature an advertisement for eight businesses that couldn-t have afforded an ad on their own.

Do you have a favorite meeting spot? A page on LinkedIn or Facebook? Starting your own group is as simple as posting a flyer at your meeting spot and sharing the invitation through social media or other venues. You can choose the venue and the format, or connect through a group like Cup of Coffee Networkers where you will be part of a larger effort with a website and format prepared. Getting the first attendees is usually the hardest, but once you get the effort moving, you will find many others who can benefit by building clients and sharing resources through a team effort.

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